When we left Vedi for a southward journey through the Arax valley, Ararat mountain dominated the landscape west of us, although slowly fading away in the afternoon haze. Close to the Azerbaijan border, the road turned east and crossed a treeless mountain area, before descending into a more cultivated valley with settlements scattered around. Near Areni, where some of the best wines of the country are produced, we visited a winery. The tasting was very good, and our Armenian friends boughts us some bottles to take home.

Kosta is admiring the Noravank-monastery (1205 A.D.) at 12 km from Areni.

That evening we entered our destination for the night, a rocky canyon, famous for the Noravank Monastery, and for its karst caves, some of which have bats inside. We visited the beautiful monastery while it was lit by the setting sun. Inside the monastery, Tigran caught a Geoffroy’s bat, many of which inhabited the crevices above our heads. After dark, we saw (and heard) several of these bats emerge from one of the buildings.

The rest of evening was spent in a nicely decorated cave, that served as a tourist café during the day. It was run by Mr. Vardges Gharakhanyan, the caretaker of a local bird reserve, renowned mainly for its international significance for birds of prey, and recognised by Birdlife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA). The Armenians, as usual, prepared a delicious supper. The night was spent in tents just outside the cave, while George, Tigran, Bart and Ben slept in the cave.

Noravank valley is, at places, very narrow and surrounded by steep hillsides. Apart from the monastery, it holds an important bird area, several caves with bats, and interesting reptiles.

The next morning, we headed for the area surrounding the monastery to look for reptiles. We found coin-marked snake, Darevskia raddei, Caucasus green lizard, snake-eyed lacertid and quite a few glass lizards. Later on, further down in the valley, a golden skink was discovered between rocks. Around noon, George took us to a cave to search for bats.

The bat labyrinth

‘Only fifty meters’, responded George to our question how far we had to crawl through the low and extremely narrow cave. Not to mention that it would be cold, dark and very dusty in there, and one could easily get lost (forever?) in the many narrow side-holes of this labyrinth. On the other hand, we were promised to see bats at close distance and George knew his way around. So there we went, headlights on, one after another, head to tail… After a while we reached larger spaces, where we could even stand up. We were rewarded by excellent close sightings of many Geoffroy’s and lesser horseshoe-bats.

We had to move on, for the drive ahead of us was long. After having lunch in a local restaurant, we drove on to the 2410 m high Selim pass. Near the highest point of the road, we found Levant green lizard (Lacerta media). On this beautiful Sunday, many people were on the move, probably returning from a day trip to Lake Sevan.

Landscape between the 2410 m high Selim pass and lake Sevan. 

Just before sunset we arrived in Martuni, at the border of Lake Sevan. Since it was late already, we decided not to proceed to Sevan town or even Dilijan anymore. Instead, we found a nice, little hotel just north of Noratus. Dinner was delicious, with a special main course: freshwater crayfish from the lake.

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The golden skink (Trachylepis auratus) exclusively lives between large rocks. The more exposed boulders on top are residential to the Caucasian agama (Laudakia caucasia).
Blues (Lycaenidae, Polyommatinae) gathering at a rainpool.